Contributed by Christian Miller
The 2011 race begins in the tranquil Vendйe region of France, which looks remarkably similar to the terrain and climate the Norwegian riders are suited to during the 20 hour days during the summer months. All eyes will obviously be on Contador and Schleck, but that suits the quiet determined little pack of Norwegians down to the ground as they tend to strike their hardest when nobody else is really paying attention. So please don’t say I didn’t warn you!
TEAM GARMIN – CERVЙLO
2011 will mark a definitive year for Norwegian hopes in the Tour de France. The World Champion, Thor Hushovd, will line up to start his 11th Tour and again do battle against the mechanical legs of Mark Cavendish and Alessandro Petacchi for stage wins and days in the Green Jersey – all for a few brief minutes of glory on the overall Winner’s podium in Paris with Bernard Hinault and that other bloke we can never remember. Can you imagine the thrill it must give to stand on the Champs Elysees waving at all your sub-standard contemporaries in the blazing sunshine? It’s the whole point to everything in life, right? Surely it’s worth the pain? It is to these guys at least.
Throughout the race, Hushovd will be flying the flag high for Norway wearing the 2010 road race rainbow jersey. The arc en ciel jersey makes fans in town cafйs and campers waiting joyously on the side of the roads nudge the person next to them, whispering discreetly or (in the latin style of watching the worlds’ biggest stage race), shout very loudly and gesture with both arms like a flightless goose in front of a loaded shotgun. This is mainly because when a pack of riders fly by at between 35 and 80 Kilometres per hour it is usually the leaders’ Yellow Jersey and the World Champions’ Jersey that can be pinpointed quickly and accurately in the whirl of bright colours that splash by in the Summer breeze.
The digital click of a cell phone and pocket camera are all there trying to catch these two passing feet away from their lenses and in some circumstances it is perhaps the amateur photographers’ dream come true and at very least demands space on their Facebook page or other artistic portfolio. Let’s face it, if anything is going to impress your cycling buddies, it’s a picture of the world champion hurtling towards you with a ironic grin on his face.
I wish Thor the best of luck in the 2011 race. I really do. I can’t see him winning the Green jersey again this year though, A stage win, yes, for sure. But then who am I to write off the current World Champion in the Tour de France? (Answer: nobody). The main reason being, if Thor’s in a break or well positioned in the sprint, he is always worth a flutter for any gambler, which is funny really as Thor doesn’t gamble at all, He doesn’t have to. He is far too experienced a rider to ever need to anymore. Apart from Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen, I can’t think of anyone off-hand who can follow Thor’s bursts of energy when he rides at his best and I don’t think too many people would disagree with me in that he is generally at his best during the flatter stages of the Tour de France.
However, an improvement on his 2008 overall position of 96th (his best overall finish to date) could be an idea and motive to race hard if the Green Jersey for some reason becomes too elusive for him. Thor can climb quite well in peak form. Not up there with the best of the best obviously, but good enough to improve on 96th and beat his personal best by a good margin I would imagine. Dare I even say a a possible Top 50 overall placing?
Edvald Boasson Hagen
Edvald Boasson Hagen has miraculously recovered from a bout with shingles to make the start on Saturday in Stage 1. This year’s race can hold great opportunity for him. He has a great team to help push to fight for placings and guide him towards a handful of stage victory opportunities and deliver him ‘to the sprint zone’. He has never won a stage of the Tour de France, and so I would say it must be an obvious ambition of his.
His Stage 7 win in the 2009 Giro proves he is more than capable of snatching something and is definitely a rider to watch when the going gets tough and heavy legs are on the afternoon menu. I’m sure Sean Yates at SKY has ambitious plans for Edvald in this year’s race, as he is a strong endurance rider and a bit of a chip off the old block really. Sean won stages both in the TT and on the road, so i’m sure he can guide Edvald towards his first and probably greatest professional achievement. I just hope it is this year, so he gets the boost now which will inevitably generate the mental power needed to claim bigger victories (a future World Champion? Yes, probably!) He’s been very close in the past to snatching wins on the line and 2011 could be the Tour breakthrough.
Edvald has shown great promise with in his overall results since coming back from injury earlier this season. He has still not quite managed to deliver a stage win at ‘le Tour’ but I have a feeling he will be well prepared at the start line this year and have an explosive start to the race through the Vendйe countryside.
*** The following riders came oh so close to Tour de France selection, but ran a bit short in the end. It’s a shame, but they’re still worth mention if only as riders to watch in the other smaller races that will parallel the Tour’s giant lap of France.
Since signing for BMC Racing Team in 2010 at 23 years old, The Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff has had an upturn in fortune on the continental racing scene. Alexander burst into the professional ranks after his 2007 National Road Race win by beating Thor Hushovd in the final sprint at just 19 years old. Kristoff has had the least impressive set of results out of the Norwegian contingent so far on the continent, but considering his age and limited opportunity this is no real indication of his true capability.
Then again, that second National Championship win last week was pretty impressive…
Kristoff narrowly losing the sprint for third place to Alessandro Petacchi at the Giro. He’s coming on strong.
Kristoff’s results in The Tours of Ireland, Britain and California have been consistently high placed, and he has proved in the 2011 Giro d’Italia that he is a top 15 rider (AT LEAST!) when the terrain suits his ability. Two top 10 stage results (a brilliant 4th on stage 8) are an indication of how close he is to the top of the sport and the elusive Grand Tour stage victory.
If you look at his rapid ascension to the elite of world cycling you will find he has ticked all the right boxes to eventually be as good if not better than his more famous Norwegian counterparts. BMC seem very happy with his services, and his consistency is proving to be his best asset. Alexander finished the Giro strong after a crash or two and a very gritty overall performance.
Kurt Asle Arvesen
Kurt’s non-selection to the Tour de France was certainly a bitter blow for the veteran Norwegian, who has been felled by injury and illness on a seemingly constant basis over the last few years.
Kurt is older (36) but has won two stages in the Tour de France and very difficult ones at that too. They are quite few and far between I must admit (2005/2008), but he certainly knows how to win and what stages will work well for him. he’s been a pro rider for 14 years now and that says it all in terms of Tour de France experience. The day he finally gets the green light to launch away from his domestique duties with 100 km to go he will, and shame on any rider who writes him off as a bit of a has been and not a major threat to steal the stage win.
He can pedal with the best of them and is very experienced when it comes to reading a race or deciphering a psychological mind game towards the finish line. Where and when Kurt could potentially strike is as always a bit of a mystery as he thrives on catching the peloton napping. It generally depends on his duties and how SKY are performing. The element of surprise comes in handy for Kurt and if the wind blows the right way for him during the final stages of the race and he’s feeling good, then he can romp home to glory. Watch out for him if and when he makes the attack. When he goes, it will be powerfully ambitious, yet very quietly done with as little fuss as possible. It won’t be until 40 km to go that the peloton finally look at each other and think ‘Hang on a minute, oh damn, too late!’
Lars Petter Nordhaug
Here is a rider who is yet to stamp a mark on the Tour de France with authority, though he is absolutely capable of causing a major tactical upset and storming away to his first Grand Tour stage victory. Whatever happens during this year’s race Lars Petter won’t be too far behind the action. I can see him pulling away at some point and giving the rest of the pack a good run for their money. His 4th place overall result in the 2009 Tour of Normandie will help him a lot as this years race passes around that very region in the first week taking him back to some quite familiar terrain and the roads that provided his biggest triumphs on French soil to date.
SKY are a very strong team this season and top five placings are very common occurrences for them these days. I must add Lars Petter finished an impressive 92nd overall in this year’s Giro and that result does not emphasize how much impact he left on the race. The 2011 edition was probably the toughest since the days of Coppi and Bartali, and Nordhaug tried endlessly to make a long range break work to his overall benefit. He’s an exciting rider to watch and has proved his worth as a lion heart of a domestique.
Races to keep an eye out for in Norway!
Glava Tour of Norway
2011 saw Norway host its first ever stage race. The Tour of Norway is the greatest project in road cycling in Norway ever and the first edition takes place in 2011. The race was organized as a UCI 2.2 event in 2011, but there’s a major goal to be able to organize on the 2.1 level in 2012. An exciting development.
The 5 stage event took place amongst beautiful scenery on rolling roads this week (June) and attracted a plethora of budding stars including young Dutch talent and overall winner, Wilco Kelderman. The hope is to attract bigger stars in the future. This year’s race started in Tшnsberg and finished in Lillestrшm skirting around the City of Oslo for two stages.
The highlight of the Norwegian domestic Road race season is the Ringerike GP held each year in May. Past winners include all the above riders and this year’s event was won on May the 8th by Norwegian rider Gabriel Rasch of Team Garmin – Cervйlo, with the infamous and familiar face of Michael Rasmussen ”Kjillingen” (The Chicken) of Christina Watches-Onfone in 2nd place (The Dane who nearly ‘won’ the Tour de France in 2007). The Ringerike GP is not a UCI classified event and therefore doesn’t attract the world elite, however it does attract the best riders in Norway and Scandinavia competing on Norwegian soil and over and around some beautiful quiet terrain.
Oslo GP Criterium
Late July, Early August 2011 sees the Oslo City criterium return to the streets sponsored by Intersport. The date and start-list is to be confirmed after the Tour de France. Check the NCF website above for exact details. Thor Hushovd has ridden in the last Two editions and is a patron of the race so whoever rides it will be fast and exciting for sure. The course is usually the same taking in the City centre with the finish line outside the University and National Theatre on Karl Johannsgate, looking directly at the Royal Palace. The 1.5 km lap is semi-cobbled and the racing is generally very fast and lasts for about one hour. 2011 will be the 3rd edition of the race and past participants such as Lance Armstrong, Thor Hushovd and Andy Schleck indicate that this year’s race will contain a few Pro-Elite stars on the start line for sure.
Current State Of The Development Of Cycling In Norway 2011
Never in the one hundred or so years of the history of road racing has the sport been so popular here in Scandinavia. These days the national TV channels and Eurosport show most major one day races in the UCI calendar and stages of all the Grand Tours. During the day they highlight the winners and losers in most national sport bulletins. The dedicated television coverage here puts Great Britain to shame with their extensive insight into the professional and tactical side of the sport. Cycling is now ranked firmly in the Top 10 on the Norwegian Olympic Committee’s list of most practiced sports. It all adds up to becoming massive over the coming years considering that Seven of the other sports in the Top Ten are Winter sports and require snow or ice.
Living here, I must say I am relishing the fact that the future looks very healthy for the future generation of Norwegian riders.